Federal District Judge Frank Damrell entered an order on Thursday dismissing all eighteen claims brought by jetski manufacturers and retailers challenging the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s ordinance banning from Lake Tahoe watercraft propelled by carbureted two-stoke engines commencing June 1, 1999.
The TRPA ordinance was the first of its kind in federally regulated waters. It was adopted in June 1997 to curtail the recent sharp decline in the clarity and purity of the waters of Lake Tahoe. Carbureted two-stroke engines in recreational watercraft discharge up to 40 percent of their oil and gas, unburned, directly into the water. Cleaner alternatives, including four-stroke and fuel-injected engines, have been available on the market for many years. Lake Tahoe provides drinking water for thousands of residents, and swimming, fishing and boating opportunities for millions of recreationists each year.
The ruling represents nearly a complete victory for proponents of the ordinance, including the League to Save Lake Tahoe, which had intervened to defend the ordinance.
The Court’s ruling cuts the heart out of the jetski manufacturers’ lawsuit,” stated Stephan Volker, attorney for the League to Save Lake Tahoe, which had intervened in defense of the TRPA ordinance. “The Court rejected all of the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims.” added Volker, “This confirms that the TRPA has broad authority to regulate water pollution from jetskis and other motorboats.
Judge Damrell’s order dismisses thirteen of the plaintiffs’ eighteen claims permanently, and holds that the remaining five claims cannot be sustained based on their current wording. The claims that were completely dismissed allege that the ordinance violated the United States Constitution’s takings, due process and commerce clauses, federal and state laws protecting access to navigable waterways, the federal constitution’s prohibition against vague laws, and a host of state laws regulating boating and access to navigable waters. The five claims that the district court dismissed without prejudice to the plaintiffs’ attempted reallegation include three claims under the TRPA Compact regarding consideration of environmental impacts, and claims under the federal Clean Water Act and Sportfish Restoration Act.
Mr. Volker praised Judge Damrell’s far-sighted ruling: “This court order clears the way for other regulatory agencies across the country to ban needlessly polluting watercraft from sensitive habitat and recreational waters, and should move industry toward cleaner alternative technology.”